Unearthed Arcana Review: That Old Black Magic (plus a new Tiefling!)

So…this Unearthed Arcana is only three pages long. It’s a new tiefling variant and a few spells and…well, actually, that’s it. But that’s okay. I get it. It’s the holiday season. Not only is the team probably quite busy working on 2016’s lineup of products, but it’s that time of year where you cuddle up in front of the fire with your family and hibernate until The Flash comes back on January 19th.

Frankly, that’s why I’m reviewing a 3-page document at 11 o’clock Thursday night instead of writing something interesting or enigmatic for you guys to puzzle over. I’m damn busy, people! Why do you think I outsourced my Monstrous Mondays?

Anyway, onto the UA. That Old Black Magic. Great title, if nothing else…

Jesus, am I really talking about the title? Gods, this is terrible. Okay, folks. Let’s dig into this. It’ll be a short one this week. I promise I’ll make up for it next week.

Download the Unearthed Arcana HERE.

First up we have the variant tiefling. Straight-up, folks? This is what the tiefling should have been from the beginning. Not necessarily these mechanics. I’ll get to that in a second. But It should have ALWAYS been divided into Abyssal and Infernal variants. These are supposed to be demon/devil-blooded plane-spawn. By definition, there are multiple sources from which their power might stem. If they had gone this route from the beginning, then it would have opened up new and interesting avenues for later books. Tieflings with the blood of Daemons. Demodand tieflings, proto-demon qlippoth tieflings, freaking kyton tieflings. Seriously, guys. Can you imagine how freaking cool kyton tieflings would be?

In fact, stick around. Because at the end of this, I’m going to include a kyton tiefling subrace.

In terms of mechanics…eh? They’re okay. I mean, the core tiefling is really boring. All it gets is a Charisma bonus and darkvision without its subraces. Now, to a degree, I get that they would be defined by their subrace. They’re beings effectively born from planar magic. Therefore, it makes sense that they would be like genasi in that way. I just think it’s disappointing that they don’t actually get ANY features that speak to the core of the race.

Infernal Tiefling

Infernal Tieflings are Player’s Handbook tieflings. No change whatsoever. Again, I get it. They’re claiming that the infernal tiefling is a baseline, and branching out from there, but it just feels wrong to introduce this new concept and barely do anything with it. I understand that they wanted to offer people the opportunity to play the core tiefling with this new option. But it just feels like a cop-out to me.

Abyssal Tiefling

Abyssal tieflings are very different and very weird. I don’t like it.

First up, they get a Constitution bonus, which…is really kind of odd. Constitution is a primary saving throw, and the Infernal tiefling gains Intelligence, which is basically only useful as a save against mindflayers. That said, giving them Constitution does make them a more versatile option, which makes sense considering their primary class feature. Barring the Charisma bonus, Abyssal tieflings don’t really have a favored class above anything else. Constitution is always useful, allowing them a lot of freedom.

Next, they get Abyssal Arcana. This is…weird, and kind of awesome. Effectively, you get up to two random spells that you can cast once per day each, and a random cantrip, at the end of each long rest. This is a BIZARRE mechanic, and makes Abyssal tieflings very swingy in terms of effectiveness each day. I’m reminded of Brandes Stoddard’s write-up on the Sha’ir on Tribality. Now, while I get the idea behind this mechanic—demons are chaotic by nature and therefore abyssal tieflings benefit in a strange, chaotic way—I really can’t endorse it. These aren’t Protean tieflings. They’re not chaos-made-life. Demons are chaotic, sure, but chaos doesn’t mean pure randomness. Balors don’t sprout arms out of their asses and then heal people with them.

I just can’t endorse Abyssal Arcana. It’s weird and nonsensical.

Abyssal fortitude, however, makes a kind of sense to me. Demons are hardy monsters forced to fight for survival in the Abyss, therefore Abyssal tieflings gain a bonus to their hit points. It’s not a lot, but it’s still pretty neat. Overall, though, I don’t know why this isn’t just +1 hit point each time they increase in leve. As it stands, it feels like a weird magical boost, rather than any kind of improved endurance.

Personally, if I were to re-write this subclass, I’d focus on the brute force of demons as compared to the diabolical plotting of devils. Give them a Strength boost and energy damage on melee attacks. And just let Abyssal Fortitude add +1 hit point per level.

Demon Summoning Spells

Why can’t a cleric or warlock cast these spells? For that matter, why in the hell can a sorcerer cast these spells!? This makes LITERALLY NO SENSE TO ME!

First of all, sorcerers are supposed to be primal casters who get their spells from a bloodline. They lack almost all of the weird, ritual-y spells that the wizard gets, reflecting the idea that their magic is natural and not learned. And yet they can perform ritualistic demon-summoning spells? What in the actual Hell is going on?

And why can’t clerics be diabolists that conjure demons to do their bidding? They’re the ones with the connection to the divine and profane of this word! THEY’RE THE ONES WHO CAN GAIN POWER DIRECTLY FROM ASMODEUS! WHY, then, can they not summon demons?

And do I even need to mention warlocks?

I am baffled and blown away by this decision, and cannot believe it was made on purpose. This has to be an accident or an oversight.

The spells themselves are fine. Evocative and interesting, even. I don’t understand why they don’t have a ritual option. Honestly, why would the demon conjuring spell ONLY have the option to be cast as an action? Now, I get why they CAN be cast as an action. It’s because they can be utilized offensively in combat, summoning a nasty demon to take out foes. But not providing the option to ritual cast just feels like an oversight. Also, the summoning circle just feels like an afterthought in each spell. The wording states that the circle is “large enough to encompass your space,” and that the demon can’t target anyone within it while the spell lasts. This creates an interesting option where a wizard summons a demon and lets it wreak havoc, protecting themselves but preventing them from moving if they don’t want to get killed by the demon. However, it offers no protection to allies, and there’s no way to get everyone inside the circle, meaning that if you wanted to use this spell offensively, you have to go it alone.

I’m kind of disappointed that these spells don’t have another option to trap the demon inside a summoning circle, as well. A trope of fantasy fiction is summoning and interrogating a demon by trapping it inside a summoning circle. Again, this would have been a great opportunity for a ritual casting option. Just note that if you cast this spell as a ritual, you can create a summoning circle in order to trap the demon. It’s not that hard, and I’ll definitely offer that option in my home games.

The Kyton Tiefling

Kyton Tieflings carry the blood of the self-mutilating fiends known as kytons. They have the following additional features.

Chain Demon

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 1.

Kyton’s Chain. As a bonus action, you can produce a chain with a wicked hook on its end from your wrist. You may use this chain as a melee weapon with a range up to 10 feet. It deals 1d6 slashing damage and has the finesse property. At 5th level, when you hit a creature with the chain, you may attempt to grapple the creature with it as a bonus action. You may only produce one chain at a time, and may retract it into your body as a bonus action.

Frightening Appearance. You gain proficiency with the Intimidation skill.

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3 thoughts on “Unearthed Arcana Review: That Old Black Magic (plus a new Tiefling!)

Add yours

  1. Warlocks aren’t getting any of the new summoning spells for a rather simple reason: their short rest based spellcasting. The spells given in the document would be just too powerful with it. One possible solution would be adding them in mystic arcanum and as invocations, but for some reason they didn’t include these options.

    With clerics… well, this a bit more complicated thing. If the core books are any indication, then WoTC is trying walk circles around the idea of PC clerics with “evil abilities.” As the death domain (which is barely evil) was stuffed into DMG for any actual reason, then probably were those spells also left out of RAW/RAI accesibility. Although there is another reason too. When EEPC was released they stated that they want to be careful when adding new spells to cleric who already has a ton of choices, which he gets automaticall.

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  2. Now I want to run a Kyton Tiefling Rogue. The reach finesse + grappling… I mean, add sentinel and (if DM allows it) polearm master and you have one MEAN son of a gun. Either way, I’d love to throw in a level or two of warlock for Devil’s Sight and Darkness. Or possibly monk?
    Ok that got silly overpowered fast. But I would absolutely love it just for the reach finesse weapon, and the grappling could be awesome for melee kiting.

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